The criminal trial of disgraced cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried has gathered a parade of powerful legal minds over the past three weeks. Damien Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, sat for hours in a 26th-floor courtroom with partners from prestigious law firms and a former deputy Robert Mueller III, who served on President Donald J. Served as special counsel in the Trump investigation.
Then there’s a guy who calls himself Taco.
A Prolific YouTuber With a channel dedicated to crypto, Taco, 39, has become an unlikely staple among the crowds of lawyers, journalists and curious observers who line up before sunrise every morning to get a seat at Mr. Bankman-Fried’s trial in downtown Manhattan. Looks like. On many days, the streamer smokes a cigar or two before 6 a.m., then logs onto a crypto-themed video chat, and updates his nearly 5,000 online followers on the latest news about the case. .
“Everyone talks about how important crypto is to them,” Taco said. “But then they don’t go to any events.”
Taco declined to reveal his real name, citing privacy concerns. “The government thinks I’m dead,” he explained. But he said he felt compelled to appear for what was “technically like the trial of the century”.
Mr. Bankman-Fried’s trial – on fraud charges stemming from the collapse of his FTX crypto exchange – has brought two different worlds into a strange collision, causing crypto obsessives (or “degenerates,” as some of them say ) has emerged. Myself) in the calm and formal atmosphere of the Federal Court.
As the trial begins, journalists have been competing for seats with crypto influencers and online celebrities — at least one of whom managed to smuggle a vape pen into the courthouse. Outside the building this week, a lawyer who specializes in working with crypto investors handed out a business card emblazoned with the title “DeFi Defense Lawyer,” a reference to an experimental type of crypto known as decentralized finance. And on the witness stand, FTX officials have had to explain jargon like “FUD,” an acronym for “fear, uncertainty and doubt” that crypto proponents use to deflect criticism.
In the courtroom, I watched the culture clash up close while Caroline Ellison, one of the top people in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s business empire, testified last week. was on my right coffeezilla, a popular YouTuber who makes videos about crypto fraud and came from Texas to see Mr. Bankman-Fried. Behind him was Tiffany Fong, a crypto influencer who struck up an unlikely friendship with the FTX founder after he was arrested.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t know why I’m here,’ ” Ms. Fong said. “I’m not related to it, and it doesn’t mean much, but I’m very invested in this case.”
Throughout the trial, Ms. Fong Issued Video on X, formerly known as Twitter, with his thoughts about the proceedings. she has sometimes joined Carly Reilly, who runs a podcast about non-fungible tokens, crypto collectibles known as NFTs. An anonymous account that calls itself Autism Capital It has also provided a steady stream of analysis and conspiratorial speculation about the trials on X.
Most of the legal fights have failed to impact Taco.
During Ms. Ellison’s cross-examination last week, Taco leaned over a bench and told me that Mr. Bankman-Fried would benefit from a “Dizen Counsel” — a lawyer immersed in the topics that crypto traders spend all night discussing. . On X.
But for all his crypto experience, it hasn’t always been easy for Taco to navigate courtroom protocol.
He arrived around 5 a.m. last Monday only to learn the court was closed for a federal holiday. Sometimes he has to be reminded to take off his baseball cap, which is not allowed in the courtroom. And on the first day of the trial, he was asked to leave when guards caught him using a smartwatch he had received from security. (Electronics are banned in the courtroom.)
By the end of Ms. Ellison’s testimony, Taco had mastered the routine — and was following the judge’s strict ban on eating and drinking in the courtroom. During a pause in the proceedings, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a can of Red Bull.
“Gotta go,” he said, smiling, and walked out the door.